When Rev. W.L. Guilfoyle arrived at the Park United Methodist Church in Weehawken in 1988, his stay was originally expected to be brief.
"Historically, we're a transient form of ministry," Guilfoyle said. "Normally, our stay is about two or three years. But the Bishop's office decided that they wanted this church to grow. They basically put me here and left me alone."
That was 15 years ago. He's enjoyed the longest stay of any pastor in the more than 100-year rich history of the church.
However, all good things come to an end. When Guilfoyle recently turned 70 years old, he was forced, by rules of the Methodist Church, to relinquish his ministry and retire.
His last sermon will be delivered during this morning's services.
"It's sad, but at the same time, it's an opportunity for the church to grow and get some new blood and new ideas," Guilfoyle said. "But my family and I are leaving a community that we really enjoy. I think we were able to come to Weehawken at the right time and spent an enjoyable 15 years there. We made a lot of good friends and had a beautiful congregation. We've been able to move forward and in the name of the Good Lord, I hope that we will continue. It's going to be a good base for the new gentleman to come in and take over."
Guilfoyle's career in ministry was an interesting one. A native of Jersey City and a graduate of Lincoln High School, he originally studied to become a mechanical engineer, after a stint in the Navy during the Korean War.
But Guilfoyle had a deep sense of faith while serving in the Navy.
"I was part of a chaplain group and was with the Methodist conference since 1956," Guilfoyle said. "I was just working in a different capacity. It's very interesting, because you never know which direction you will be led to or perhaps kicked to."
He attended Chicago Institute to receive his degree in engineering, went to St. Peter's College to get a degree in accounting, and did his theology studies at Drew and Wessley Colleges.
Guilfoyle retired from his original career in sales and management at the age of 50 to begin his second career as a minister.
"I've had a wonderful career," Guilfoyle said. "I have some great memories. But I guess it's time. Looking back, I'll have one less thing to do, one less bulletin to put together, one less sermon to prepare for. There will also be one less baptism, but those are the best things to do."
After services today, the congregation will head to the Green Kitchen in Guttenberg for a celebration brunch.
Members of the congregation were saddened by Guilfoyle's departure.
"I hate to lose him," said Ruth Elsasser, who has been a member of the congregation for the last 47 years. "He's a real friend to everyone in the congregation. It's a big loss. He's been supportive and he's always there when you need him. I've always felt like he's been a part of the family."
"Naturally, we're sorry to lose him," said Ed Brier, a member of the church's Board of Directors. "He's been very faithful to us and he's been a good administrator. I would have to say that he's been a great asset to our church. He's very outgoing and his personality meant a lot. He was also very active in the community and would often appear at different functions in the town. In every way, we will miss him."
Guilfoyle said that he hasn't planned anything special for his final sermon.
"It's not going to be a swan song," Guilfoyle said. "I'm going to preach the way I have for the last 15 years. There's a beginning and there is an end. That will probably be the message."
Guilfoyle, who moved from Jersey City to Rockaway Township four years ago, said that he will enjoy his retirement with his wife, Erna, his three children, Lester III, Leanne and William, and his four grandchildren.
"I'm grateful to have had the chance to spend time with some great people," Guilfoyle said. "The only thing I won't miss is trying to operate through Route 80 on a Sunday morning. I've been well blessed by the Good Lord."
And the people of Weehawken have been well blessed by having Rev. Guilfoyle for the last 15 years.
Guilfoyle said that he's more than likely not fully retired as a minister.
"I think the Bishop will find something for me to do in northern New Jersey," Guilfoyle said. "Plus, I plan to be around from time to time. We've made too many friends here to simply walk away."
In an ironic twist, the new pastor is also an engineer with an electrical engineering degree. His name is Rev. Franck Guil.
"The bishop asked what kind of replacement we should have," Guilfoyle said. "I told them that they should get a mirror of me. Apparently, they have."